Video games go to the Movies


Video Game characters at the movies

Video Game characters at the movies

I’m game for the movies


Many films go on to become video games but do you know which films started out as video games? The pictures above show just four of those films, can you name them? You may be surprised to find out that there have been quite a few more. Which do you think was the first video game to make it to the big screen? I asked this question to a friend recently and he came up with Tron. My friend didn’t know that Tron didn’t start off as a video game. First, it was a 1982 science fiction film by Disney and although it was about a video game it was actually the film that spawned the game. The prize for first live action film based on a video game was in fact ‘Super Mario Bros in 1993 starring Bob Hoskins as the moustachioed title hero and Dennis Hopper as the bad guy. Though Bob Hoskins received praise for his portrayal of the popular game character, the film itself received very negative reviews and did poorly at the box office.

During the mid nineties there then followed a spate of kung fu and kick boxing video game / film crossovers, the most famous of which were the run of ‘mortal combat films and Street Fighter. Such stars as Christopher Lambert, Jean Claude Damme and even Kylie Minogue brought theses video game titles kicking, if not screaming, to the big screens. Initially both titles proved to be commercial hits but unfortunately, the negative reception of each subsequent film meant that the prospect of further releases is minimal.

It was not until Tomb Raider and Lara Croft (played by Angelina Jolie) hit the screens in 2001 that a video game could really lay claim to having successfully made the leap to the movies. In takings it broke the record for a film that featured a female lead and took over $300 million at the box office worldwide. It not only remains the most successful video game adaption to date but also launched Angelina Jolie’s career as a Hollywood actress.

Ironically enough the next video game to successfully make the transition from computer screen to cinema screen also starred a female protagonist. In Resident Evil Mila Jovovich also plays a gun-totting amnesiac heroine and a secret underground genetic research facility called the ‘Umbrella Company’. The trouble starts when the company is responsible for accidentally releasing a virus which causes dead bodies to reanimate as blood thirsty zombies. To date three live action movies under the name of Resident Evil have been released. The fact that the movies took an average of $20 million on their opening weekends and grossed $150 million worldwide means that Alice’s fight against the Umbrella Corporation is sure to continue.

The talk of the computer game town at the moment is the prospect of Peter Jackson’s (director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy) involvement in HALO. HALO is a very successful first person shooter video game. It will be interesting to see how a video game that took $300 million in its first week of sales will make it as a movie adaptation. There are many sceptics who simply believe that a successful video game loses its principal appeal once it becomes a movie. You watch a film passively for a couple of hours at the most. A video game requires active participation and it is the choices that you make that decide the story. Also a video game, from start to finish, can provide anywhere in the region of 100 hours or more of play.

So what is the future for computer games at the movies? Rather than seeing movies and video games switching back and forth we may see the two blending together to form a single new media. The technology perfected by James Cameron to film his new movie Avatar may hold the key to this future. As James Cameron himself says, he used “a big, powerful game engine” to capture actors’ motions to let them interact with computer generated characters on a real, live-action set while shooting live action. Perhaps the video gamer of the future will interact with a game environment in a similar way putting the player inside the game in real time. This will bring a whole new meaning to “I’m into video and computer games”.

Download this article (PDF) for your learners (with comprehension questions)

Posted on September 19, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Unfortunately, the quality of most of these films based on video games leaves a lot to be desired – often giving video games and future adaptations even worse reputations. The only film adaptation of a video game that I believe justifies in part the quality of the source material is ‘Silent Hill’. However, it is flawed in many ways as it tries to live up to the Hollywood machine and explaining too much. But the one thing it did right, was capturing the style and visuals of the game. The reason for this? It was directed by a huge fan of the game! Let’s hope the sequel does a better job…

  2. Thanks for reminding me of Silent Hill, Joe – I agree that the atmosphere was great and the story let it down. Let’s hope you’re right about the sequel – related to this post, or at least to videogames approaching cinema quality, have you seen the trailer for the PS3 game, ‘Heavy Water’?

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